May 2, 2011

Prime land in Kolkata leased to Bengali paper

By Romita Datta
LIVEMINT, Posted: Mon, Feb 28 2011. 1:00 AM IST

The Trinamool Congress-controlled Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) has allotted two acres on lease to a Bengali newspaper, run by a trust founded by a party member, for a premium of `6.6 crore, when it may have earned 10 times that amount by auctioning the land.

The move comes months ahead of assembly elections in West Bengal, in which an alliance of Trinamool Congress and the Congress party is hoping to end the three-decades-old rule of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM-led Left Front.

KMC has leased out the plot to Pratidin Media Trust, which runs the Sambad Pratidin newspaper, for `550,000 a cottah, or `3.3 crore an acre, and an annual lease rent of `1 a cottah. A cottah is one-sixtieth of an acre. The 33-year lease is renewable for two more terms of 33 years each.

Three years ago, the corporation had leased out to DLF Ltd a five-acre plot in the same neighbourhood for almost 10 times the lease premium: `52 lakh a cottah, or `31.2 crore an acre. DLF had secured the plot through an open auction; this time there was no contest.

Developers said the plot could have fetched a lease premium of `70-80 crore if KMC had chosen the tenant through an auction.

“Only a few years ago, LIC (Life Insurance Corp. of India Ltd) had paid over `50 crore an acre to secure from KMC a plot in the same neighbourhood,” said a real estate developer. The insurer was to build a hotel there, but is yet to start the development.

The largesse comes at a time KMC is unable to achieve its `150 crore revenue target from sale and redevelopment of properties it owns, and is dipping into bank deposits to complete projects.

The founder of Pratidin Media Trust, Swapan Sadhan Basu, is a Trinamool Congress representative in Rajya Sabha. His son and the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Srinjoy Bose, said there isn’t anything surprising in the deal. “The Left Front has in the past done similar things many times.”

Kolkata’s mayor Sovan Chatterjee when asked why the concession was made, said the trust would use the plot for “some good cause”, without elaborating.

The decision was approved by Trinamool municipal councillors after Left Front representatives “left the house protesting against another issue”, said Rupa Bagchi, a CPM councillor and leader of the opposition in the KMC.

“It was not even on agenda,” she said. “We didn’t know they would move this proposal after we staged a walkout.”

This isn’t the first time KMC has allotted land to news organizations. Former mayor and Trinamool Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee said in his term (2000-2005) he had allotted land to several newspapers irrespective of their political leanings.

“I had given land to Pratidin, too,” he said.

No comments: